For the past year, Lati Horton has worked on our policy team as a community ambassador, thanks to support from the AmeriCorps VISTA program through the Kansas City Public Library. As she prepares to depart, Lati shares her insights from working in the position.
Working with BikeWalkKC has been one of the best professional experiences for me. Coming out of college and beginning to work in my field was something I did not feel confident or prepared to do. So I will always be grateful for the opportunity of being a part of this team and being given the chance to serve the city I grew up in. This job has taught me alot in terms of professional experience and in how policy and the city functions. The three big things I’ve learned with BikeWalkKC are research, communication, and being patient.
Coming into this position, I had no experience and no knowledge of biking or walking infrastructure. Luckily, I was given ample reading material in my first two weeks to catch me up on the basics and a bit of multimodal transportation policy history. As I continued in my position, so did the reading and research sent my way. As an employee this made perfect sense to me; I couldn't go and talk about something I didn't know. As a resident, I learned to appreciate the readings because before this position I saw no reason to advocate for biking or pedestrian safety. Cars were the norm to me and I saw no reason for any type of change. This made me realize how important it is to research topics before forming an opinion. It's easy to let someone else give you a potentially misguided opinion and then regurgitate it but when you do your own research you can feel confident in where you stand and sometimes you might find a topic you’re passionate about.
When it comes to making change or advocating for anything, you will need people to help and support you. So finding different ways to connect with diverse communities is very important. With this in mind, it's very important to learn the community first and prioritize their needs so as to build a stronger relationship with them. Finding ways to communicate and support people in times of need is also important. Calling people and checking in with their communities and even staying up to date through social media on what they are doing can be helpful as well. Don't fake an interest with communities just to push an agenda; be sincere and be consistent because they know when you are just trying to use them. These are people with their own vision and goals for the neighborhood. So just like you wouldn't come into someone's home and tell them how to decorate it, the same thing goes for someone's neighborhood.
Lastly, I learned to be patient! Change takes time, building relationships takes time, and the city will take its time. When we are passionate about a topic or helping others, sometimes we get discouraged when we don’t get a response immediately! Sometimes you have to stop and remember your emergencies are not their emergency, especially in a pandemic. It took weeks to a year to get responses back from some people. So all you can do is make sure you leave a good impression on people and be prepared when they reach out. The same patience will be needed with policy; some changes come quickly and others can sit in council for months. So while you wait, prepare, gather support, and be diligent!
Looking back over this year and half I appreciate being a part of such a wonderful team and the opportunity to be a part of something bigger. Working with this organization helped me grow tremendously and I look forward to taking these skills with me in my future endeavors. So as I start my new position as the community connector at the Plexpod I will always remember the importance of researching, communicating, and being patient. I will greatly miss BikeWalkKC but I will fondly remember them every time I’m driving down the street sharing my random infrastructure facts that my friends and family did not ask for.